Social reformer Abastenia St. Leger Eberle was a sculptor who modeled images of impoverished immigrants and the disenfranchised poor. Eberle, who spent several years living among her subjects in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, was especially inspired by the strength and dignity of the women in these communities. Like her contemporaries in the Ashcan School who painted realist scenes of the urban poor, Eberle depicted the lower classes, but from a feminine perspective.
The daughter of a physician and musician, Eberle and her family moved several times throughout the Midwest during her childhood. She moved to Manhattan shortly after graduating from high school and enrolled at The Art Students League. Eberle studied under renowned sculptor George Grey Barnard and received strict academic training. During this time, Eberle began making trips through the Lower East Side, compassionately observing the activities of the women and children. Her first representation of this subject was her sculpture Puerto Rican Mother and Child
After a trip to Italy in 1907 to have several of her pieces cast in bronze, Eberle returned to New York and lived for a brief period with sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington, with whom she collaborated on several works. She later moved to the Music School Settlement on East 3rd Street which serviced newly arrived immigrants. The increasing recognition of her sculpture allowed her to buy a summer home in the artist community of Woodstock, New York, where she found inspiration for her artwork in local farmwomen.
Inspired by social reformist Jane Addams, Eberle fervently campaigned for feminist causes. Her work White Slave
shown at the controversial Armory show in 1913 depicted a young, submissive girl with her arms tied behind her back being sold at an auction. In 1915 she helped organize an exhibition of women sculptors to raise money for the suffrage movement. Eberle also helped struggling artists and writers by renting out rooms in several tenement buildings she leased in Greenwich Village. The income generated from these properties allowed her to continue sculpting and in the 1930s purchase an old barn in Wesport, Connecticut which she remodeled into a studio.
Due to failing health, Eberle was only able to sculpt sporadically in her later years. Through a close friendship with librarian Charlotte Crosley, Eberle donated over twenty works to the Kendall Young Library in Webster City. Her small bronzes of immigrant women and street urchins continue to reflect Eberle’s lifelong passion for progressive and reformist causes and her keen sensitivity to capturing tender moments of motherhood and childhood.
student of C.Y. Harvey
student of George Gray Barnard
student of Kenyon Cox
friend of and collaborated with Anna Hyatt Huntington
Bronze Medal, Pan-Pacific Exposition, San Francisco, CA, USA (1915)
Helen Barnett Prize, National Academy of Design, New York, NY, USA (1910)
Bronze Medal, St. Louis Exposition, St. Louis, MO, USA (1904)
Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, MO, USA (1904)